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Brennan Center Submits Pre-Trial Papers in CT Election Day Registration Suit

For Immediate Release
Friday, April 15, 2005

Contact Information:
Natalia Kennedy, 212 998-6736

Brennan Center Submits Pre-Trial Papers in CT Election Day Registration Lawsuit

New York, NY All pre-trial papers were filed today by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and the Connecticut Attorney General’s office for an upcoming trial challenging Connecticut’s 14-day voter registration deadline. The trial is set to begin on April 28th in federal court in New Haven, CT.

Last year, the Brennan Center filed a lawsuit that claims Connecticut is violating the Constitution by requiring citizens to register at least 14 days in advance of Election Day. The suit, the first of its kind in the United States, asks the court to direct the state legislature to create a system for Election Day Registration or “EDR.”

Connecticut has a divided registration system, allowing unregistered citizens to vote for U.S. President on Election Day, but not for any other races on the ballot. More than 30,000 unregistered Connecticut citizens voted for President in 2004, but were barred from voting in the other federal and state races, including the closely contested Shays- Farrell race.

Connecticut also allows people to register for primary elections up to noon the day before and certain categories of people to register for general elections up to the same time the day before the election.

“By adopting EDR for all elections, thousands of additional Connecticut citizens will be able to participate in our democracy,” said Jennifer Weiser, Associate Counsel at the Brennan Center. “There is no good reason for the State to resist this important step forward.”

In 2003, the Legislature passed an EDR bill that required photo identification and a sworn affirmation by the voter to prevent potential voter fraud, which was vetoed by former Governor Rowland. There is currently a bill pending that would safeguard against potential fraud through post-election mail verification. With these types of provisions in place, there is no reason for the state to resist implementing EDR.

The defendant in the suit, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, testified on February 18, 2005, that “[I]t would be quite feasible to implement EDR in conjunction with the statewide voter registration system and these identification requirements” and that she “remain[s] a strong proponent of EDR and hope[s] to see it implemented by carefully crafted legislation.”

“Bureaucracy should not trump basic civil rights,” says Joyce Hamilton, Executive Director of Democracy Works. “This deadline needlessly disenfranchises thousands of voters; it is time for Connecticut to finally implement EDR.”

Evidence from other states with EDR overwhelmingly suggests that EDR would elevate voter registration and voter turnout, without increasing fraud. The six EDR states-- Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming-- have voter participation rates 10 to 12 percentage points above the national average. In 2000, almost two-thirds (65.6%) of eligible voters went to the polls in EDR states, while just slightly more than one-half (50.5%) voted in states without EDR. Officials in the six states allowing registration on Election Day report that there has been no increase in voter fraud or administrative problems.

“As a consistent and eligible voter in this state, I should not have been barred from participating in any election,” says Susan Sorenson, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “It is ridiculous that thousands of voters can register and vote for the highest office in the land, yet be turned away from voting in elections that are closer to home.”

In addition to the 9 individual plaintiffs named in the complaint, there are several organizational plaintiffs: ACORN, Connecticut Common Cause, Connecticut Citizen Action Group, Connecticut Public Interest Research Group, Democracy Works, People for the American Way, and Working Families Party. The Brennan Center, joined by Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP and Day, Berry & Howard LLP, represents plaintiffs.

The Brennan Center for Justice unites thinkers and advocates in pursuit of a vision of inclusive and effective democracy.